The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

May 16, 1916:
The Beginning of the Carving Up of the Mid-East

May 23, 2016

On May 16, 1916, after several months of talks, the French diplomat Picot and his British counterpart Sykes came to an agreement. The object of the agreement, which was to be known by the name Sykes-Picot, was to cut up the Middle East between a zone run by France, including the current Lebanon and Syria; a British zone, including Jordan and Iraq; and a third zone which would be under international control, Palestine.

At the time the agreement was signed, the region had belonged for three centuries to the Ottoman Turkish Empire and was unified. The great thousand-year-old cities of Baghdad, Damascus, Jerusalem and Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), had no borders between them and the ties were numerous and enduring. The diplomats and French and British soldiers were going to cut it up live by creating regions, then countries, solely in accord with the strategic and commercial interests of their imperialisms.

Obviously, this agreement remained secret. The English and French were going to promise everything to everyone, from tribal chiefs in the desert, to city merchants, Arab nationalists and Zionists, to whom British Minister Balfour promised to support the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It was a question then of enrolling everyone against the Ottoman Turks, who were allies of Germany. After Germany was defeated in World War I, the English and French put the agreement into effect and took possession of the divided territories, installed their troops, their administrations, their overseers and their exploiters.

The agreement was also a secret from the French and British populations. It couldn’t be revealed that the soldiers buried in trenches in the major battle grounds of World War I had died so their leaders could divide the oil wells and good business opportunities on the day after the victory. The secret treaties were published–but only in Petrograd in November 1917, when they fell into the hands of the government that came out of the October Revolution. The Bolsheviks wanted to show the real aims of the Allies, the pillage and division of the world, to reveal, as Lenin said it, “the contradiction between the interests of the capitalists and the wishes of the people.” As for what concerned the Middle East, it was blatant.

The League of Nations (the forerunner of the United Nations) had just been created. The French and British sent their soldiers to kill in the name of the law. They didn’t call these new possessions colonies, but the League of Nations granted the big powers mandates to put them under their control. That didn’t occur smoothly or without revolts. The imperialists employed their habitual methods: massacres, depopulations, the forced movement of people, terror. To crush the Druze revolt, for example, the French Army in 1925 went to bomb Damascus.

After World War II, the mandates came to an end, but the new states were created along the borders drawn up in 1916. The situation was complicated by the creation of the State of Israel on the one hand, and the growing and finally determining intervention of U.S. imperialism on the other. Western military interventions still aren’t over in the Middle East, and are increasing up to today, leading to the true decomposition of the entire region. The maintenance at any price of imperialist domination over a strategic region, rich in oil, has led to a chaos without name.